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Jihadist replacement of leaders with effective replacements, and the rise of the scion of Bin Laden have undercut perceptions of this success. Furthermore, the use of torture to obtain information about terror attacks and the location of leaders has undermined future efforts. The split between al-Qaeda and Islamic State in has complicated the picture for intelligence collection, forcing analysts to look in too many directions.

Leaders from both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State still exert control over their respective franchises, although in a degraded manner. The networks and affiliates are disaggregated , often focused on local sovereignty designs, and while nominally dedicated to global jihad are practically focused on influencing local Muslim populations. Worryingly, this metastasizing jihadist movement is proving to be an adaptive enemy, operating in a globalized age that has dispersed impressive and cheap technological means to help them in their fight against states.

Our evaluation of the attainment of these objectives fall in descending order, from mostly achieved for the first two to an insufficient grade for the last.

Osama bin Laden's Network of Terror

Both the failure to manage the growth of the global jihadist movement, and the realization that even the destruction of the caliphate has not ended the campaign, inspires the frustration of politicians, practitioners, scholars, journalists, and voters. Worse, the passing scores on the first two objectives are only interim evaluations, not final ones. They require unending maintenance and attention. To understand the source of this frustration, we present a metaphor to understand the challenges of combatting terrorism.

Like analogies, there are many metaphors, and none are perfect, but this one is ours. Florida has a bit of a Burmese python problem, as odd as that might seem. In an age of globalization, imported pet pythons somehow escaped into the Everglades, particularly in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in They have expanded into an estimated population in the tens to hundreds of thousands — not exactly a small margin of error but a reflection of the difficulty in assessing the threat.

A decade ago, the Islamic State of Iraq had a few thousand members.

War on Terror - Wikipedia

More recently, the Pentagon was claiming they had killed over 60, members. The Islamic State has new franchises all over the world and an end-strength measured in tens of thousands. Like the jihadist problem, the origin of the python problem might be interesting but it is not instructive in creating any solution. Burmese pythons have adapted to their new environment, are almost impossible to find, and while posing little direct threat to humans are in the process of drastically affecting a delicate ecosystem with unknown consequences.

War on Terror

Efforts to open up hunting of pythons by politicians are making a laughably small impact on the problem. In essence, these dynamics are very similar to our current effort to reduce terrorism. All analogies and metaphors have their weakness, and this one suffers from a significant one: unlike pythons, terrorists kill people in increasing numbers with worrisome trends. In an age characterized by the rapid transfer of technology, and despite exhortations by some that terrorism is a relatively insignificant problem, the risk of a large-scale terror attack is commensurately increasing.

Did Al-Qaeda win the war on terror?

Our past failures are eroding resolve to face up to and try to prevent this future attack, and this is compounded by the looming deficit crisis — some of it fueled by these same costly failures — that will naturally limit our ability to act. The rise of other risks to international cooperation and norms dare we say an international order will further complicate and distract from the risk of terrorism.

How will we get through the next decade without another massive loss of innocent life? There are three factors that we think will determine the future trajectory of global efforts to reduce terror acts and associated loss of life and property. The first will center on whether a shared understanding and more realistic appraisal of the nature of the conflict can be attained.

This failure is at the root of wasted effort, mistakes, and disillusionment. The second factor will depend on the management of scarce resources to continue prosecuting the war against jihadi actors in an era of multiplying threats. Finally, the outcome will be determined by the ability of policymakers to unify an international coalition to defeat members of the global jihadist movement, which while divided at the moment, still march to the beat of the same drum.

In fact, most conventional definitions — including one long proposed by the conference organizer, Boaz Ganor — specifically exclude attacks on military targets as terrorism. Proponents of this definition desire increased cooperation among international actors and are fearful of delegitimizing what some might call freedom fighters rebelling against brutal oppression.

As a consequence of this exclusion of attacks on military targets — which often includes police and government workers, even experts get confused about what is terrorism and what is not.

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Considering that insurgents always use terror in their campaigns to overtake the state, the line is always blurred. The current effort to defeat the jihadis is a war in almost every sense, fought between military components with sizeable asymmetric power imbalances but nonetheless the power to control territory and populations and inflict violence on one another. The reality is not this simple. We refuse to accept this new reality and continue to misread our jihadi opponents, their objectives, and their relative success in achieving modest success to date. Any focus on the defeat of the caliphate , and not the shocking fact that one was created in the first place by tens of thousands of locals and global migrants, is a good example of this failure to understand.

Governments exist in large part to protect its citizens from harm. Failure to do this has large repercussions for politicians. Accordingly, they overwhelmingly passed an authorization for the use of military force in Sixteen years later, we still cannot accept the reality of the war we are fighting, and three administrations have used this law to justify war against Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. We are not executing a series of isolated military strikes with drones, but an extended and significant campaigns with no end in sight. Governments have to set priorities to protect their citizens, and efficiently allocate resources in order to protect its citizens and secure their welfare.

Seventeen years after Sept. 11, Al Qaeda may be stronger than ever

Fears that we are over-invested in the fight against jihadist groups, at the expense of attention to China or Russia, are valid and reasonable concerns addressed in the new National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy. That being said, it could be just as much a mistake to understand China as a threat to the United States, as opposed to a competitor for political and economic influence. While the competition for resources is always a zero-sum game, risk assessment is not.

The probability of a Chinese threat to U.

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Even if we were to decide to actively contest Chinese island building in the South China Sea, as well as influence efforts in South Asia and Africa, it is extremely unclear as to what we could actually do to stop what is a natural increase in influence due to their rising economic power. The U. At the same time, the strategy must preserve core American values, including discriminate use of force and maintaining due process in the provision of speedy justice. The research described in this report was sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

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